Posts Tagged ‘The Ex’

Unsounds 65U – 15th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

While Andy Moor’s distinctive guitar playing is central to this collaborative work, it’s worth stating from the outset that this is a challenging listen. Spacious and eerie, above all it’s atonal and discordant, as if the two musicians are playing against one another, rather than with, and, moreover, against themselves, particularly in Moor’s case as he digs deep to pick notes in counter-time and counter-melody.

How this album came to be is worth recounting, so I shall quote directly: ‘In 2017 Andy Moor and Yannis Kyriakides were invited to participate in Xavier Veilhan’s ‘Studio Venezia’ at the French pavilion for the 57th Venice Art Biennale. This was a space where a series of musicians were in residence throughout the six month duration of the festival, recording and performing there in an open environment. The two musicians had access to a variety of instruments and machines including Moog, Buchla and Vermona synths which were used for some of the recordings. The unusual situation here was that they were working in a studio, experimenting, trying out ideas while at the same time being a part of an ongoing art installation. So they were part of the space, yet not really knowing whether they should play for the crowds who were constantly passing through the pavilion or just ignore them.’

‘The result was nine hours of recorded material mostly improvised or based on a few basic rhythmic patterns that Kyriakides had prepared as starting blocks. For this album they selected 45 minutes of what they considered to be the strongest material after several listenings and editing sessions.’

That’s a lot of material, and a lot of whittling and editing, but the end result is well-assembled and flows together nicely – while at the same time mining a seam of arrhythmia and clanging dissonance. Moreover, each piece is distinct and distinctive, with different textures, tones, and moods, and as such, Pavilion represents a disorientating, difficult journey.

The layers on ‘Camera’ build at different rates, crossing over one another and interfering with one another’s time signatures so as to become bent out of shape, colliding against one another in a clutter of discoordination. The synth bass on ‘Dedalo’ warps and scratches and scrapes away as low grooves that trip and curl, wow and flutter. There’s a playful side to it, with the rhythmic swing and metallic clattering that sounds like pots and pans, which contrasts with the more ponderous atmospherics of ‘Concha’, a nine-and-a-half minute exercise in detuning and retuning, as notes bend and bow with a slow, resonant decay.

‘Diluvio’ is unpleasantly tense and prickly, and the album ultimately drifts towards an uneasy conclusion with the last couple of pieces, which are simultaneously dolorous and soporific, albeit in a dark, horror-movie dreamscape sort of a way.

Pavilion leaves you feeling… not quite bewildered, but spaced, separated, as if standing half a step behind your own body or your own shadow. It’s less about if this is a good thing in itself, as much as the fact that this is a work which has a degree of psychological resonance, which marks it as a creative success.

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Yannis Kyriakides Andy Moor – Pavilion

Unsounds – 60U – 1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tout ce que je sais is the second part of Chaton and Moor’s ‘Heretics’ series, which, according to the blurb, sees the duo ‘revive the most obscure, violent, erotic passions, summoning the great gures of their personal mythologies. In the company of Caravaggio, Marquis de Sade, William Burroughs and gures such as Jose Mujica, the duo immerses the listener in another world history peopled by radical thinkers’. ‘Heretics’ pays homage to those heroes who have used transgression and excess as a necessary means for creation. In this new album, recorded live at the Carreau du Temple in Paris on the occasion of Périphérie du 35e Marché de la Poésie (2017), Anne-James Chaton and Andy Moor deliver a radical work at the confines of literary and musical creation.’ The first release came in a giant matchbox, complete with textured side and a huge matchstick. No, I haven’t burned my copy. Yet.

The fact it is a live recording creates a certain degree of difficulty in terms of how to weigh its realisation. Granted, there’s an immediacy to the stuttering, fractured ruptures of dissonance what scratch through at forty-five degree angles to the rhythms and overall shapes of the compositions. But to doesn’t feel like a definitive document: something is missing.

‘Casino rabelaisien’ is a stark, minimalist grind, throbbing and churning away at a short, repetitious sonic loop of bass and extraneous discord reminiscent of Suicide and with cluttering, scratchy guitars that call to mind The Fall pre-1980. The murky sound accentuates the claustrophobic atmosphere, and Moor’s monotone delivery. The words being spoken in French mean I’m excluded from their meaning and from their sense. Oftentimes, the language of sound is enough to transcend linguistic barriers. But with the musical aspect so minimal and the vocal aspect so much to the fore on this work, I fear that much of the significance – and quite simply much of the content – is lost. Burroughs et al – this is my field, so to speak. But I simply don’t recognise it, let alone connect on a level where I can engage critically in terms of its conceptual content. Nothing about Tout ce que je sais conveys the brutal perversion of de Sade on a sonic level, for example, and there’s nothing that brings the bewildering explosion of ideas or the narrative fragmentation of Burroughs’ writing here.

‘Conquins coquettes at cocus’ jolts and jars, the crunching guitars choppy over a haltering, stuttering rhythm worthy of Shellac. It’s sparse in instrumentation, but it’s intense, and Moor’s dry, almost inflection-free delivery provides a counterpoint and contrast.

There’s something deep and haunting in the very notes of ‘Clair Obscur’, but the limited instrumentation means it feels somehow incomplete, unfinished. And then here’s the applause and the shouting from the audience immediately after; while being there would have almost doubtless have been a quite remarkable experience, the material would equally doubtless benefit from a proper studio realisation in order to capture the nuance and the detail of the compositions and their arrangements.

‘The Things That Belong to William’ closes the set; a slowed-down, opium-slurred Burroughs drawl creaks through the jolting, jarring spasmic guitar chords. It’s interesting and uncomfortable, but doesn’t go any real distance to create the same kind of temporal dislocation of Naked Lunch or any of Burroughs’ cut-up works. Is this a failing? Probably not in real terms. We land, then, at a place where we’re faced with the disunion between expectation and actuality.

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Anne-James Chaton & Andy Moor – Tout ce que je sais

Ex Records – 23rd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

‘We always start from zero when we make a new album,’ the band explain of their creative process. This could well be the essential factor in their enduring nature: in avoiding the trap of becoming predictable to either their audience or themselves, they’ve remained fresh and innovative, continually testing their creative limits. Almost forty years and twenty-odd albums since their formation as an anarcho-punk band, The Ex are noteworthy for their eternal evolution and their refusal to stands still or to retread old ground. Collaborations, side-projects, and shifting lineups have also proven integral to this ethos, and it’s been almost eight years since their last album together as a quartet.

27 Passports sees them return once again reinvigorated, refreshed and ready to reinvent rock once more. And they do, in the way only a band with three guitars (but no bass – Moore’s baritone guitar provides essential tonal range here) and infinite vision likely can.

As the title suggests, this is an album of movement. Or, moreover, perhaps an album that creates the illusion of movement. 27 Passports is accompanied by a 40-page booklet of photos shot by Andy Moor. They’re odd, devoid of context or narrative meaning. Simultaneously eye-catching and mundane, they’re snapshots of life, devoid of perspective or implication: a row of feet on a train; a rusting car; a swan with its head under water; a traffic jam. These images provide an appropriate visual accompaniment to the disjointed, semi-abstract and immensely oblique lyrics and the musical content.

The first track, the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Soon All Cities’ is driven by a loping rhythm and crashing cymbals and builds a hypnotic groove slashed through with angular guitars which clang and scrape and layer up with volume and distortion. More than the choppy guitar work that often strays into the atonal and discordant, as do the vocals, it’s the percussion that really provides the focus of 27 Passports, pinning the loose and purposely obtuse guitar work in place and holding everything together.

If the claim that ‘there are some remnants of their African adventures’ (a reference to their collaborations with Getachew Mekuria) sits at odds with the spiky post-punk schematic, ‘The Sitting Chins’ subtly and strangely weaves ‘world’ music elements into the jolting barrage of chaos. If there was ever an antithesis of Paul Simon or Sting, this is it, and this fact alone makes 27 Passports an essential album.

For the most part, the compositions eschew linearity in favour of locking into a space and pushing away at a single motif for as long as seems reasonable, and sometimes beyond. This is very much a selling point. At to B is overrated: it’s about the journey. And it’s less about the distance than the motion itself. Take a walk: multiple laps of the block will not only achieve the same exercise effect as walking for miles toward a destination, but new details will reveal themselves with each circuit. No two circuits of the same short route will ever be the same. 27 Passports may be transcontinental in intent, but looking the wrong way down the binoculars is what it’s really about.

Barrelling bass scours the lower sonic realms on the robotic, motorik, ‘New Blank Document’; equal parts Gary Numan and early Swans, with heavy hints of The Fall’s ‘Spector vs Rector’ in its messy fabric. Such discord scratches away at the psyche, drills into the cerebellum, and unsettles the equilibrium.

In contrast, ‘Footfall’ deploys the same methodology and the same instrumentation, but against the relentlessly thumping beat, there’s a nagging aspect to the cyclical riff which has an intuitive emotional drag, a certain resonance. There’s something special about a certain descending three-chord sequence… and of course, they almost bury it beneath layers of jagged trebly noise. And that only renders it all the more beautiful and captivating.

There are some wonky pop moments present, too, with the Pavementy ‘The Heart Conductor’ bouncing along nicely, with a catchy vocal melody riding on top of the off-kilter guitars that are reminiscent of early Fall. Of course, when it comes to The Ex, comparisons are vaguely pointless beyond providing guidance for the uninitiated: with such an expansive career, it’s their work which has influenced many of the acts that stand as useful reference points. Of the surviving bands of the period – The Fall being no more and having arguably plateaued a good few years ago and Pere Ubu only offering occasional sparks – it seems like The Ex are the last ones standing who continue to really extend their reach and to challenge themselves and their listeners. 27 Passports is an absolute stormer, and an album which stands up against anything else going – period.

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The Ex - 27 Passports